Monday, January 31, 2011

Busy Mom Tip #4: Fun and Healthy Condiments

It's the most basic thing, but we and our two and a half year old have gotten a lot of mileage from it: cinnamon easy at hand. We have some cute little salt and pepper shakers filled with cocoa and cinnamon. The cinnamon shaker is almost a permanent fixture on the table, and I add it to my own coffee or hot chocolate or fruit and yogurt, and D asks for it to add to his 'foam' (steamed milk foam which I make for him when I'm having a cappuccino) or to porridge or applesauce. That salt-turned-cinnamon shaker gets a lot of action.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Meal Plan #5

This week's meal planning began while traveling home in the car after a weekend visit with my brother and sister-in-law.  What does one make for supper when one has no microwave (and therefore can not thaw frozen things on a whim), has not gone grocery shopping, won't arrive home until 4:30 PM and has a toddler who appears to be coming down with yet another virus?

My husband had the answer. "What about that garlic soup?" he said. That just might be something we have all the ingredients for, since during my annual Christmas grocery hoarding, which involves picking up extra of everything just in case I run out, I had overstocked in the garlic department...and the perfect winter sicky option. Garlic soup and cheese toast, it is.

The garlic soup recipe comes from Dan Jason, owner of Salt Spring Seeds, a heritage and heirloom organic seed grower on Salt Spring Island in B.C. My husband once spent a weekend on the island and spent a lot of time at Dan's farm, learning about his business. He came home with a cookbook, The Really Whole Food Cookbook, and has since picked up a newer one, The Whole Organic Food Book, which is more about growing food as well as cooking it, and more or less contains recipes from the original book. Garlic soup is in both books.

The original recipe is vegan, but we had chicken broth in the fridge, and some drippings in the freezer from last week's roast chicken, so ours was not. You may worry that this will be overwhelmingly garlicky, but I don't find it to be. It's more tangy and richly flavourful than noticeably garlicky.

Garlic Soup

2 garlic bulbs (you read that right--BULBS, not cloves), peeled and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 T. olive oil
2 t. minced fresh basil (I used some from my garden that I blended with olive oil and froze in tablespoon-sized portions)
1/2 t. minced fresh tarragon
4 c. chopped tomatoes (the original recipe calls for them to be peeled as well, but I didn't do that. It would make for a smoother soup)
4 c. broth or water
salt and pepper to taste

Sauté garlic and onion in oil over medium heat, being careful not to brown them. Add tomato and herbs and stir for two more minutes. Add broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes. Season to taste.

My husband and I have decided that this should be the base for any soup we make. It is beautifully flavoured on its own, but would be even more delicious turned into a minestrone, with beans and pasta added to it. I especially enjoyed it with some cheese toast made from day-old Christie's Bakery pagnotta and Balderson double-smoked cheddar. I laid the toast in the bottom of my bowl and ladled the soup over top. Yummy. As for the sicky two-year old, he spent more time on the cheese toast, but once he was cajoled into trying a spoonful of soup, he picked up his bowl and took a healthy drink and said he liked it, before losing interest in it and tearing his toast to pieces.

And now for the rest of the week:

By hubbie's request: beef and bean burritos
Avocado and cucumber dressed with lime and sea salt

Broccoli and toasted garlic pasta (that's right—I STILL have garlic to use up!)

Asian-style roast chicken
Napa cabbage with dried shrimp and straw mushrooms (I have some Napa cabbage that really needs using, and I discovered a stir-fry recipe that has some obscure ingredients that I actually have on hand. It's not every day I find an excuse to pull out my bag of dried shrimp and open a can of straw mushrooms. I'm looking forward to trying this and exploring the website that it was posted on.)
Steamed brown rice

I won't have time to cook Thursday, because we have a 4:30 appointment to meet with a kitchen designer about renovating our kitchen. This is so exciting!! Food-wise, we'll likely go out somewhere. We may also track down some friends who might want to meet us for dinner, to turn our family night on the town into a socializing opportunity.

Leaning towards a pizza night, which may also be a socializing opportunity; more on that later.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Quick Bread Week

Not that it takes much effort or skill, but I have mastered quick breads. I can whip together muffins, scones, or a loaf in no time at all, and so I do quite often. I haven't yet mastered yeast breads or pastries, so those are far less likely to come out of my oven. My mother, who makes beautiful buns and gorgeous pie pastry, would tell me that's because I only do things that I can do better than everyone else. I don't think I'm quite THAT competitive, although some friends and family might beg to differ. I do hope to eventually make time to master those as well, but in my present situation, there are no materials available for the making of time.

Like bar cookies instead of drop cookies, I am learning the benefits of loaves over muffins, for both the simplicity of just dumping the batter into one pan as well as the longevity factor. Recently, I made a batch of golden raisin oat bran muffins. They were good, but after we enjoyed them warm and for breakfast the next morning, they languished on the counter until I had to throw them out. I don't really like day-old muffins, whereas somehow loaves seem to improve over a couple of days. Probably has to do with less overall surface area.

Besides the oatmeal peach bread (which was posted on line at Slow Like Honey) that I made earlier in the week, I also made a buttermilk-rye loaf, also from King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking cookbook, in an effort to use up local farm buttermilk and butter (that I get delivered to my door!) that I had in my fridge. I was disappointed in the peach oatmeal bread at first, because it seemed quite dry and crumbly (and was listed as 'low fat', with only 1/4 cup of oil). It actually cured and improved over a couple of days, so I would make it again—probably with extra peaches.

The buttermilk-rye loaf, with its hints of orange and caraway, was absolutely delicious with cream cheese. Once again, I thought I might be able to freeze some of what I'd made, but no such luck. It's pretty much all gone. I will certainly place another order for buttermilk in the future—and the fresh farm butter is gorgeous spread over all kinds of breads and muffins.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Roasted Veggies Rock

I am continually surprised by the delicious-factor of roasted vegetables. I came home from yoga tonight to sample the roasted vegetable ratatouille and fell in love. In fact it was more than love—occasionally I discover a dish that makes my body go, "YES!!" Even more occasionally, that dish is actually good for me, and not a dish full of salt and fat. There was no guilt at all in tonight's dinner.

There are several recipes on line for roasted vegetable ratatouille. Mine came from the Moosewood Collective's Simple Suppers (one of my go-to cookbooks for simple and healthy meals). I had to modify it a bit, because it calls for fresh basil and there was none to be found at the grocery store when I was there on Saturday. My schedule didn't allow for a return trip, so I decided to rely on what I had in stock at home, which was some homemade pesto from last year's basil crop, in my freezer.

So in a nutshell, here's all you need to do for a fabulous meal:

Chop a collection of vegetables into 1-inch pieces to total 12 to 14 cups. The original recipe called for peeled eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and multi-coloured peppers. I added mushrooms as well. Place in a large bowl and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. I used a little over 1/3 cup of olive oil, and a generous sprinkling of S&P. Roast in a 450F oven for 40 minutes or so, stirring halfway through.

When everything is nicely softened with little caramelized bits around the edges, place in a serving bowl and toss with 1/4 to 1/2 cup pesto and serve.

The recipe suggested serving it over polenta or pasta. I would have liked to try the polenta, but I didn't have any on hand. Instead, while searching for polenta in my pantry I found quinoa, which I cooked in some purchased vegetable broth that I had in my fridge. The combination was absolutely delicious. As I mentioned, my body said "YES!" Then it said, "You should add some crumbled feta to this." So I did. My yoga teacher is always telling me to listen to my body, and in this case, my body proved to be very wise.

I confess to not being a huge fan of eggplant, but I have to admit that it made the dish, as it went all creamy and soft in among the firmer zucchini and onions. Oh yummy. I foresee more eggplant in my future.

I wish I could say this was a kid favourite, but not today. I'll blame it on his cold.

P.S. lennisdottir just posted a comment noting that roasted broccoli is also fabulous. That should also go on the roastables list!

Zen and the Art of Following a Recipe

Last night I made Epicurious' version of chop suey, as per my meal plan. It seems a bit finicky, as it calls for a long list of vegetables, and instructs you to cook each one separately, one at a time, in your wok. I have made the recipe before when I was feeling more pressed for time and made an executive decision to combine the veggies into three groups--the ones that take a little longer to cook, like celery, onions and the bok choy ribs, and the ones that cook faster, i.e., green peppers, bok choy leaves and snow peas, and then the instant cook ones at the last minute—bean sprouts, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots.

Made that way, it was good enough to make again, I certainly wouldn't advise against going that route if you're feeling rushed. But this time I had more physical space and the time available, thanks to the boys both having a long nap at the same time. I decided to follow the recipe exactly, to see if it made a difference.

What I discovered is that the real difference between the two preparation methods lay in the cooking experience, rather than the eating experience. Standing over a hot wok and cooking one vegetable at a time felt somewhat meditative. Each vegetable has its own way of cooking (becoming translucent for onions, for example, or turning bright green in the case of the snow peas and green peppers), and spending time on each one gave me an opportunity to observe and think about the properties of each—the colour, the shape, how it cooked, and how it smelled. Each vegetable released its own particular aroma as it cooked.  I finished the dish feeling more reflective about my meal—and the art of cooking it—than when I'd started.

Did it make a difference to the flavour of the dish? Probably not a noticeable one. My family enjoyed it as much this time as they did the last time. But having undergone the cooking process, it felt more meaningful to me when I sat down to it. A luxurious experience to have in an otherwise hectic and distracting life.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Brunches on the Town

I was just thinking back over a lovely and relaxing weekend, and thought I should share that we had two food-oriented outings this weekend:

Saturday—we met Grandma and Grandpa at the Farmers' Market, and bought them breakfast. Beautiful quiche for Giuseppi's. It is truly the best quiche I have ever tasted. D enjoyed bites of our quiche (he ate most of Grandma's breakfast quiche) as well as most of a morning glory muffin from the Prairie Pie Company, where we also buy our lattes. Another quick stop for a scone from Wild Serendipity, and we were replete.

Sunday—met another young family for dim sum at the Mandarin Chinese Restaurant. We got there at 10AM, right when they opened, which guaranteed us a table, since we were the first to arrive. However, the steamed items, which are our favourite, are apparently the last to come out, so we were full by the time they made their rounds with them at 11AM. Note to self...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Meal Plan #4

We're around most evenings this week, so no need to work around anything except a yoga class—our challenge this week is to have everything wrapped up with no leftovers in the fridge by Friday, since we're heading to Prince Albert for a weekend of winter fun with my brother and sister in law. I have a floating 'optional' meal scheduled for Thursday which requires no perishable food items, and can be popped in the freezer in the event of leftovers.

Ingredients to use up this week: Napa cabbage, fresh zucchini, ricotta cheese, fresh tomatoes

Did I just say we're around in the evenings? Well, except for tonight, when I play volleyball from 6-9. That means our meal has to be portable or else edible when it's cold, at 9:30 when we get home, while at the same time being ready for D to eat before he heads out for an evening with his Uncle. We have a collection of leftovers in the fridge, and I decided to roast a chicken so that we have food today if we need it, and leftovers ready for lunches tomorrow. Side dishes and veggies will be scavenged from the fridge.

Chop suey with rice or noodles (I'll use the Napa cabbage in place of bok choy)

Tuesday (Yoga night)
Roasted ratatouille (Moosewood Collective's Simple Suppers) and couscous (to use up the zucchini and tomatoes)

Wednesday (Play group night)
Cannelloni with ricotta and spinach (from Rose Reisman Brings Home Light Cooking). This will also help to use up the purchased jar of pasta sauce I used for last week's rice-nut loaf.

Lamb stew with kidney beans (if needed—this is the freezable one)

Friday, we're hoping to leave the city soon enough to descend on my brother in time for dinner.

Since dinner tonight is a big of a hodgepodge and doesn't require much effort from me, I have thawed some of the peach slices I froze at the height of peach season and turned them into peach oatmeal bread from King Arthur Flour Wholegrain Baking. I opted to use less sugar than the original recipe--3/4 c. brown sugar instead of 1/2 c. each of white sugar and brown sugar. I find the recipes in that cookbook to be a bit on the sweet side. It's fresh from the oven and looks beautiful. Hopefully it will taste that way, too.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

More Fish Please! More Fish! More Fish!

Every once in a while, a parent hits on a winner. Tonight I made a simple supper of pan-fried pickerel, lemon-caper potatoes and steamed green beans. Carrying on a tradition I picked up from my dad, I offered a taste of the first fish out of the pan to my husband and toddler. D then followed me back to the kitchen yelling, "More fish! More fish!" At dinner, while I enjoyed the lemon caper potatoes (recipe from The Moosewood Collective's Simple Suppers) and thought they really worked well with the simply-cooked fish, my son proceeded to eat one and a half fillets of fish all on his own. He may have eaten one bean, and I'm pretty sure he didn't touch the potatoes.

I can't entirely take credit for the popularity of fish in our household. D worships "Grandpa Gene", who is a fish aficionado. As soon as D heard that the fish came from Grandpa Gene, he was sold. The fish fillets had been quick-frozen up north where they were caught, probably within minutes of being pulled in, and were just gorgeous—fresh and delicate. I have, however, come very close to perfecting the fish pan-fry. So I will say that the preparation did justice to the quality of the ingredients.

What is the perfect fish fry? The simplest of breading and seasoning, a roomy pan with lots of hot oil, and a determination to not overcook.

Years ago, we discovered the gorgeous texture of flour made from kamut, an ancient variety of wheat. It is more coarse than white flour, but less grainy than cornmeal, and as a breading, it provides a light, crispy, delicate and flavourful coating. I added only sea salt, fresh ground pepper and some dried dill weed—fairly generous amounts—as seasoning, blended them with the flour, pressed the fillets into the mixture and added them to hot canola oil a few mm deep in a stainless steel frying pan. I cook them for different lengths of time depending on thickness, but no more than 7 minutes total on medium heat. You can check that the centre of the fillet flakes easily when you press on it with tongs or a spatula.

As for the potatoes, simply cook some potatoes, toss the juice and zest of a lemon with a small handful of chopped capers in a large bowl, add the hot drained potatoes, drizzle with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, and toss with salt and pepper. I'm always amazed at how delicious these tangy little vegan delights are—and how well they go with the fish.

I suppose I could fret over the fact that all my toddler ate tonight was fish, but I read somewhere that you should make sure that your child eats a balanced diet during a week, not during any given day. He stuffed his face with potatoes a couple nights ago. Tonight was a apparently a protein night. Next time I'll thaw more than three fillets of pickerel, so my husband and I can also eat our fill.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Quick Kid Lunch #2

I just pulled together a lunch using stuff out of my fridge/pantry, and left over ingredients from dinners earlier in the week. The results were a hit with a bleary, snuffly toddler who usually doesn't eat much when he's feeling under the weather. Very basic, but tasty:

Pasta Shells with Tomatoes and Beans
2 c. medium shell pasta (whole wheat if you can find it)
3/4 c. diced canned tomatoes
1 c. white beans (or whatever beans you have on hand)

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Once it is cooked al dente (still a bit firm to the bite), drain,  put back in the pot and add the tomatoes and beans. Cook on medium heat, stirring often, until the tomato liquid thickens and soaks into the pasta a bit, and everything is hot. Season to taste (I add salt and fresh ground pepper to my own dish and leave the seasonings out completely for D). Serves 1 toddler and one grownup.

The benefit of shell-shaped pasta, besides getting your child excited about eating 'seashells' is that they tend to gather beans and tomatoes into their little pockets. Even if your child thinks they're picking out just the pasta and avoiding the rest, they will be inadvertently eating a little of everything.

Busy Mom Tip #3: Treat Yourself

What's your favourite treat? Luxury and pampering are somewhat subjective, but whatever makes you feel pampered, I think you should do it. Busy moms don't get much down time, so I for one take it when I can. I feel pampered when both kids are asleep and I get to sit down by myself with a delicious snack and a good book. My afternoon go-to is often a cup of hot cocoa, either homemade or Green and Black's, which is available in many grocery stores.

In the evening, after the kids are in bed (which usually means my husband has also fallen asleep in the process of putting the children to sleep), I love to settle in with a glass of red wine and a plate of cheese and crackers. It feels extra luxurious if I have a block of really good cheese and some kind of fruit or preserve to match. One of my favourite combos lately is gouda cheese (the older, the better) and Stonewall Kitchen's Fig and Walnut Butter. I just used up the last of my jar last night (it was superfantastic spread on the parmesan pine nut biscuits I made earlier in the week), so I may have to go back to the Bulk Cheese Warehouse to get myself another...and some vintage gouda to go with it.

Wine and cheese may not be your favourite thing, but whatever you enjoy, be sure to treat yourself once in a while (and by once in a while, I mean as often as possible). You deserve it!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Busy Mom Tip #2: Know Your Limits

When my second son was very small, I was able to host dinner parties by wearing him in a sling while I cooked. He would sleep for hours at a time, and was completely happy as long as I stopped occasionally for a feed.

It's planning your cooking schedule around that feeding time that's the trick. Once he would lie down for naps, it got a little more tricky. At one point I decided I wanted to make risotto for dinner, which seemed like a good idea until I was in the middle of my labour of love, stirring constantly, when labour of love #2 started to wail. I had to leave my post and feed him, and the whole while I was nursing I was trying to stay calm about my poor labour of love #1, bubbling away on the stove, not getting the attention it needed.

Finally, I couldn't stand it, and yelled for my husband to keep an eye on the risotto. He's out of practice, so he took a bit of coaching: "It's looking a little dry--do I add something to it?" Um, yes, the simmering stock that's right next to it. "How much?" See the ladle? One or two of those. Keep adding til it's gone.

The risotto turned out great, and we enjoyed it immensely. I was thinking to myself, though, I could do without that added stress. Maybe I won't do that again for a while. Risotto is a bit beyond the 'busy mom with a newborn' limit, unless you can call in reinforcements.

Mushroom Risotto (If you have a newborn, don't try this at home without help)
1 T. butter
2 shallots or 1/2 small onion
1 clove garlic
1 c. fresh mushrooms (or your favourite mushroom)
2 t. fresh thyme
1 c. Arborio rice
¼ c. dry sherry
½ c. dried porcini mushrooms (or your favourite dried mushroom)
2-3 cups of heated chicken stock
½ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 T. butter OR a drizzle of truffle oil or dollop of truffle butter, if you want to be fancy
Salt and pepper to taste

Have your helper pour hot water over the dried mushrooms, while you heat the chicken stock in a saucepan. Let the mushrooms soak for 20 minutes.

While you chop the shallots, garlic and thyme, have your helper slice mushrooms. Melt the butter in another saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, thyme and mushrooms and a pinch of salt and pepper, and stir until mushrooms are soft and the liquid has almost evaporated. Add rice and stir until it begins to look transparent, 3 or 4 minutes. Have your helper measure out and add the sherry, and stir until the sherry is absorbed. Add the reconstituted mushrooms and their soaking liquid, and stir until that is absorbed as well.

While you stir, have your helper add a ladle or two of chicken stock at a time to the rice mixture. Stir constantly until the liquid is almost entirely absorbed, then add another ladle or two, and so on. Keep stirring. Have your helper on hand to take over in case baby needs to feed, or toddler needs an intervention. Rice is done when it is creamy but still holds its shape. When you taste a grain, it should be firm, but not crunchy. When the risotto is cooked, remove from heat and stir in the grated Parmesan cheese and butter or truffle oil. Serve immediately with extra Parmesan cheese and a grind of pepper.

Serves 2 as a main dish, with leftovers, or serves 4 as a side dish.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Meal Plans are the Bomb

I received affirmation tonight that having a meal plan for the week and shopping for it ahead of time is the way to go. Due to a fairly busy schedule this week, the levels of complexity added to our lives trying to adjust to steak-not-roast were surprisingly intense. I was hoping to go to yoga tonight. Throwing a roast in the oven is one thing; grilling a steak is another, when it comes to timing. My husband and I were going to eat at different times, so do we heat up the grill twice for one steak each time? And my husband was going to be juggling two kids during the supper hour, so it would be virtually impossible for him to get to the grill in the first place.

Never fear! We have groceries in hand for other meals as well! We decided to have tomorrow's meal tonight, and so while the boys napped this afternoon, I threw together Moroccan Chickpea Stew and whole wheat couscous so it was ready whenever they were, and I could enjoy it after yoga. Steak just doesn't quite fit with an after yoga late evening meal anyway.

So the steaks continue to marinate in their salt and pepper rub, and they will be lovely tomorrow when I can enjoy them with a glass of wine.

Tis the Seasoning

The joys of getting your meat from local suppliers (i.e., Dad): my package of "Cross Rib Roast" turned out to be some kind of steak. Nix meal plan, time for ad libbing. I can't really complain about roast that is actually steak, though, can I?

What doesn't change is my choice of seasoning for this lovely piece of meat: Kosher salt and fresh ground smoked peppercorns from South China Seas Market in Vancouver. Smoked salts and peppers are one of my new favourite things—and the perfect added touch to my usual salt and pepper treatment of high quality meats (which is what I insist on). It's really all they need.

Closer to home, you should check out the gorgeous jars of flavoured salts at Sous Chef. Not sure if they have smoked pepper, but if you tell them they should, they might just find it for you.

I don't know what I'm doing with the steak yet, but I salted and peppered it quite liberally at 9AM, and it's now sitting in my fridge thinking about what it wants to be when it grows up.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Toddlers and Food—Arrgh.

Okay, I don't get it. My toddler loves broccoli. He loves salmon. He loves milk. He loves potatoes, whether roasted, mashed or fried. So how come, when I put all of those things together in one dish (aka salmon and broccoli chowder), he won't touch it? While the adults loved it, I might have managed to get one spoonful into D's mouth. He did take apart two of the whole wheat parmesan and pine nut biscuits (I found a link for these, too!) from my whole grain baking cookbook. Ah well, my philosophy on dinner failures like this is, that's what bedtime snacks are for.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Meal Plan #3

Still flying high from last night's beautiful Lebanese dinner, I've decided to throw in a few more vegetarian selections this week. Unlike most people, it actually costs more for us to go vegetarian than to eat meat, since our farming relatives tend to keep us in cheap, and often free, meat. But I do try to opt for vegetarian options about half the time (but some weeks are meat-heavy than others).

Tonight we enjoyed Three way garlic pasta with beans and peppers from I'd made it before in the summer, with new garlic and fresh garden greens, but I discovered tonight that it is just as satisfying in the winter, with its rich garlic flavours and creamy white beans. It's a bit fussy to prepare, with the three preparations for the garlic, but if you do your meal prep before you cook the pasta, it all comes together really quickly. Be prepared for garlic breath, though.

The rest of the week will go something like this:

Salmon and broccoli chowder (Tin Fish Gourmet)
Biscuits (of some sort...haven't decided yet)

Roast beef (I didn't say meat-free...just less meat this week, and besides, there's a roast in my freezer that's been calling to me)
Roast potatoes, gravy, green peas, salad (I winced today as the grocery bagger at Safeway dumped peppers and sweet potatoes on top of my organic to use it sooner than later, I guess)

Moroccan chickpea stew and couscous

Rice-nut loaf (subscribing to the philosophy that vegetarian food can taste as good as meatarian food as long as you add enough cheese or cream—how can a recipe that measures out 3c. of rice to 2 c. of cheddar cheese NOT taste good? By the way, this isn't necessarily my philosophy, but I don't mind enjoying recipes from that tradition every once in a while)

Family fun night—Parmesan chicken wings, yam fries, veggie and dip. I think I'm going to make yogurt cheese for the dip, if I can manage this week. There's a recipe for a dip that uses pickles and olives as well as other delicious additions in Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian that I hope to make for veggie (and possibly chip) dip.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Like Attracts Like

One of the great things about being a foodie is that I tend to become friends with like-minded people. I can then reap the benefits of being surrounded by great cooks. My birthday, which I celebrated recently, was a case in point--my favourite gifts came from fellow foodie friends, and they were homemade treats—pickles, salsas, jams, cookies and candy. I felt truly spoiled.

Tonight, I get to reap even more benefits. We're invited to a friend's house for a Lebanese night. She takes great pride in her falafel, and another friend of ours makes her own pita. I offered to bring along Lebanese baklava, since I have made it several times to great reviews, and there we are, a dinner party full of homemade Lebanese delights, for us and our kids (of which there will be at least six in attendance). In order to allow for bedtimes, we're planning to be there for 5:30, so we can leave by 8ish.

I found my baklava recipe at, which is a fantastic resource for multi-cultural recipes. You can search by country and by type of food. I've used it extensively over the years.

I have now sampled three pieces of that baklava in order to make sure it's still good as it cools. I was getting worried I wouldn't have any left to bring to dinner. It's the rose water—I find it irresistable. So to ward off anymore pilfering I took action and made myself a cup of Harrod's rose petal tea (another gift from another foodie friend), which has the same gorgeous aroma as the baklava. Although...what would REALLY be good is to have some baklava WITH the rose petal tea....

Poaching--and not the illegal hunting kind

In this age of grilling and roasting, boiling meat seems a little passé—unless you're on the cutting edge of the sous vide movement. I have just been resold on the art of poaching meat, chicken in particular. I just found a recipe in my Mark Bittman Food Matters cookbook for a version of the classic 'white cut chicken' recipe, a standard Chinese delicacy that I have, until this point, only eaten in restaurants. I order it on a regular basis whenever I go to Hon's Wun-Tun House in Vancouver, and I've also had a nice version of it at Rice Bowl here in Saskatoon, although it may not be on their current menu, since they appear to be headed further down the Korean road (which is okay, too).

White cut chicken is simply poached bone-in chicken, served sliced with a simple green onion and ginger dipping oil. Sometimes, it is served with three dipping sauces, including soy and chili. Mark Bittman's version includes squash as well as the chicken. He only suggests serving it with soy sauce, but since the dipping oil is my favourite part, I decided to make it, too. I found a version on line. I should have known this sauce was that easy to make. Keep in mind, this is quite salty and strongly flavoured, so a tiny bit goes a long way.

You might suspect that poached chicken would be bland, but bland it is not. In fact, the poaching liquid is salty enough that someone who is sensitive to salt might find the combination of the chicken and the salty dipping sauce to be too much. Me, I loved it.

I'm going to share my adaptation of Bittman's recipe for 'Anise Scented Poached Chicken with Squash'—we liked it so much that after we cooked half of the chicken, as the recipe calls for, ate it all, and before dinner was over, decided to cook the remaining half chicken in the poaching liquid as well, so that we could enjoy it the next day. I served it with a brown and wild rice blend, and some steamed snow peas tossed in with a few leftover veggies from our take out feast from the Mandarin, earlier in the week.

Poaching liquid:
5 or 6 slices unpeeled ginger
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 star anise
2 T. salt
1 t. honey

1 acorn squash, peeled and sliced into wedges
1/2 chicken, cut into pieces

Combine poaching liquid ingredients and bring to a boil. Add squash and chicken, bring back to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat and let the chicken and squash sit in the water, covered, for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is done. Mark Bittman says to check with an instant read thermometer to make sure the chicken is done. I was just using pieces (I had cut up a large Hutterite chicken, to be specific), and could tell when they were done because they were tender all the way through. I served the squash and chicken straight out of the pot.

Be sure to provide napkins, since you will want to get all the shreds of meat off the bone. I just made a mess of my keyboard, chowing down on leftovers, so I'm speaking from experience.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Product Placement #1: Liberty Mediterranee Yogurt

Honestly, I don't get paid for this.

I was just enjoying a few spoonfuls of Liberty Méditerranée yogurt this evening—enjoying in this case involved leaning against my kitchen counters with my eyes rolled back in my head in absolute ecstasy—and I thought, hey, this is why I decided to start a blog about food, to share some of my discoveries, be it recipes, resources, restaurants, or even just stuff you can buy off the shelves.

Liberty yogurt is one of those amazing discoveries. If you can just ignore the little sign on the container that says "8% m.f." (aka, about the same amount of fat as cereal cream), you can enjoy little bursts of heaven with every mouthful.

My first experience with the Méditerranée line was several years ago in Vancouver. I couldn't resist picking up 'plum and walnut' flavoured yogurt, in spite of the high fat content. It became a permanent line item on my shopping list. Then I moved home to Saskatoon, and seriously mourned the loss of one of my favourite dairy products (the other being cave-aged Gruyere). Then it appeared at the Steep Hill Food Co-op. Then I saw it at Dad's Organic Market. I was so excited! Now, I can find it any number of places, including Safeway and Souleio Foods.

With flavours like lemon, hazelnut, mocha, peach and passionfruit, wild blackberry and our family favourite, coconut, I can't imagine ever wanting another yogurt again. Yes, it's very high in fat. But I have a theory on that--the more you enjoy a food item, the more wholesome and healthy it is for you, fat or no fat, because that feeling of well-being is an unrecognized factor in diet and nutrition that merits further research. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

P.S. After a concerted effort on the part of my friends and family, involving several requests that they carry cave-aged Gruyere, I'm happy to say that my other favourite dairy product is now a fairly permanent fixture on the shelves of the Bulk Cheese Warehouse—and an excellent seller. If you haven't tried it yet, you should. You can thank me later.

There's lasagna, and then there's lasagna..or is there?

Chili and lasagna are two North American dishes about which I am completely ambivalent. My position is that in everyday life, I am destined to happen across a meal of chili or lasagna often enough that I never feel the need to cook them.

My husband, on the other hand, could live on chili and lasagna, with the occasional Vietnamese bun dish for variety. This is an area of contention in which (surprisingly) my extended family helps our marriage—my mother considers lasagna to be a last minute stand-by recipe that she can throw together to feed unexpected visitors. And because she knows my husband loves it (and loves her lasagna in particular), she tends to make it for us fairly frequently when we visit. Which is why I never feel the need to cook it myself. So while my husband is grateful for any and all lasagna, the current set-up pretty much guarantees that, unless he makes it himself, he'll never get lasagna in his own home.

Until this week, when I drew a blank during meal planning. When I asked him what he'd like me to cook this week (I should know better than to ask), he responded the same way he always does: "Lasagna!" For once, I couldn't think of anything better, and since I have unlimited supplies of hamburger in the freezer, as well as a big bag of frozen garden tomatoes that needs using, I thought, why not?

But I wasn't going to make a lasagna that required any opening of cans. Oh no. Mine was going to be 100% from scratch (well, except for the noodles).

Between my toddler's naptime and my baby's afternoon nurse-and-nap frenzy, I had a small window of time to pull this together. I boiled noodles and started gathering my sauce ingredients. I like to add as many veggies as possible to my meat sauces, so I chopped onions, garlic, celery, carrots and mushrooms, and on a whim, a small remainder of my dad's home-smoked bacon from Sunday's breakfast. Who needs olive oil when you can cook vegetables in bacon fat? I browned the bacon, added the veggies and had just added the beef when I got summoned by my baby—all the while I nursed him I fretted over whether anything was burning, and tried to put my yoga practice into practice by just relaxing and being in the moment, and trusting that everything would work out. Nothing burned, to my relief.

A recipe that I was using as a loose guide suggested canned tomatoes, some beef broth and tomato paste. I had frozen tomatoes, a small amount of homemade beef stock (very rich, though), and tomato paste. I figured the extra juice in the frozen tomatoes would make up for the demi-glace-like beef stock, and I threw in a bit more tomato paste and salt to make up for the lack of canned tomatoes, added some dried oregano and bay leaves and let it all simmer.

As the sauce finished cooking an hour later, and I had finished mixing up the ricotta-spinach layer, my toddler woke up from his nap. He kept himself occupied with grated mozzarella while I assembled the dish. Everything looked and tasted fine, and the stoneware lasagna pan weighed a ton once the thing was built. I looked at the wreckage I'd left behind in my kitchen, and wondered, is the effort and mess really worth it? And the other thought was, how does my mother consider this an easy last-minute dish?

The verdict? It was a nice lasagna. Our toddler dug right in and ate half a piece. The bacon added a nice touch, but as I said, I'm fairly ambivalent about it, and this particular incarnation didn't change my mind. But was it actually better than if I had followed the recipe on the noodle box and just used store-bought sauce? I don't think my lasagna would stand up to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.

My husband, self-proclaimed lasagna connoisseur, enjoyed it, but more for the novelty of actually getting to eat lasagna at home than for any inherent value in this particular version. When I asked whether it was any better than other lasagnas, he said, "Your mom's is way more tomato-y and tangy. Why is that?"

It's decided, then. Mom, you can keep my husband in lasagna. I'll move on to other things.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Meal Planning...slightly derailed

My weekly goal of having a meal plan and groceries purchased on the weekend was almost not met today. Got home from volleyball at 3:30, nursed baby, had a shower, thought about what I wanted to eat this week, drew a blank (which is a rarity), visited with my husband and mother-in-law, and then realized that it was 5:15, I had to get groceries still, and Safeway closes at 6PM. Not to mention dinner for tonight.

Quick rethink--asked the in-laws to stay for dinner, called the Mandarin Chinese restaurant (our top pick in Saskatoon for Chinese food), made an order for pick-up, grabbed my grocery list and ran out the door. I made it home to a hungry family at 6:45, with the big bag of Chinese delicacies in tow. I had switched up our usual order this time around, in an effort to get more vegetables in the mix. My only complaint (and the complaint I hear most often from my vegetarian friends) about the Mandarin is that it's hard to get a lot of vegetables with your meal, and their all-veggie options are limited. I opted for veggies by ordering meat dishes with veggies. I found the prawns with Chinese greens to be an excellent option, with gorgeous little mini-bok choys nestled in amongst the shrimp. We also went for beef with Chinese broccoli, which is really mostly Chinese broccoli. By the way, when I mentioned ordering Chinese food, our two and a half year old started babbling on about having Chinese broccoli. He was most excited at the prospect. Very gratifying! We rounded off our meal with wonton soup, bbq pork chow mein (my mother-in-law's favourite), and my favourite, chow fun—wide rice noodles.

Now I have an extra meal to use up this week, since I made my grocery list before I decided to order takeout, and didn't make the connection until after I'd made my purchases. I'm sure the extra dish will get made somewhere...

Meal Plan, Week of January 9

Mixed vegetable soup, made with my homemade Chinese stock (made from pork, chicken, green onions and sherry) [this is the meal that didn't get made, but I bought the groceries for]

I've got a plan for lasagne, because when I asked my husband what he wanted this week, that's what he came up with. Poor guy. He would be happy with variations on ground beef every day, and I insist on using cuts like chops and steaks. I don't have a recipe selected for lasagne yet, but it will use a bag of frozen tomatoes I have in my freezer, and I've got whole wheat noodles, spinach, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan ready to contribute to the final product. More on that later.

Addictive sweet potato burritos — a vegetarian family favourite.

Currently planned for leftovers, since we'll probably have some. This might be where the additional meal gets fit in...

Lemon almond pork chops from The Canadian Living Cookbook
Brown rice, broccoli

Anise-scented poached chicken with squash from Mark Bittman's Food Matters Cookbook

One last note on my shopping trip today—the state of the grocery store was a stark reminder of our food systems and how fragile they are. The produce section was noticeably bare, and I realized it's because there are major storms in Alberta and the Trans-Canada Highway is closed. Two days of stormy weather and our food supply gets sketchy. Kind of makes you think, doesn't it?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Brunch is the New Dinner Party (for foodie parents)

Once upon a time, we and our friends would regularly get together for dinner parties--often elaborate dinner parties, with several courses, wine matched to each course, beginning around 7PM and continuing past midnight. Sadly, since we all started having children, the days of leisurely, wine-soaked dining are over.

But it turns out that we miss our foodie friends, and they miss us. So we have begun a new tradition--a monthly brunch. Three couples take turns hosting, and we descend upon each others' homes, toddlers in tow, at 10AM. The festivities usually wrap up around naptime.

We attended one of these lovely get togethers this morning, and while someday (MANY years from now), I look forward to getting back to the leisurely dinner with friends, for now, the brunches are an excellent stand-in. Give it a try with your own group of friends. You just might like it!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Never Thought I'd See the Day

I didn't post a meal plan for this week because I was out of town for two days. I left 'the boys', meaning my husband, D and my dad, who came in to help out while my mom and the baby and I traveled to Edmonton for meetings, to their own devices. I thawed porkchops for them to use one day, suggested they cook the whole frozen fish in the freezer for the day we returned, and otherwise left it up to them.

When we came home last night, the fish was in the oven, and my dad had stuffed it with a rice pilaf, the recipe for which he'd found in Rose Reisman Brings Home Light Cooking. I shouldn't be so surprised by this, but I am, for a couple of reasons. First, I have never seen my dad look up a recipe. Ever. Second, his typical cooking repertoire almost invariably includes an open flame or vat of hot oil (usually heated over an open flame). The few times this is not the case is when he's frying bacon and eggs, boiling macaroni, or offering up Ichiban noodles or 'tube steaks'. To whit, when I mentioned there was fish in the freezer that I thought was a whole Pacific cod (gifted by my friend's dad who fishes in Prince Rupert), he was all set to fillet it, bread it and deep-fry it.

I'm not really giving him enough credit. He CAN cook—he just prefers to deep-fry whenever possible. But last night, he proved he really can cook, and the baked stuffed salmon (which it turned out to be—not cod) was absolutely lovely (and it was endearing to see how much pride he took in his creation). But when we laughingly pointed out that he got the recipe from a "Light" cookbook, he looked quite disgusted. He was about to tell me how he didn't like many of the other books in my cookbook collection, but we didn't get to the details. I'll try to get that from him next time I see him.

Monday, January 3, 2011

One of my favourite websites for healthy recipes is My two favourite food groups, so to speak, are Mediterranean and Asian--what could be better than a website devoted to both of them together?

Tonight I'm making Baked Feta and Walnut salad for supper, and having it with some of the leftover dips and cheeses from our New Years party. It's gonna be easy. It's gonna be good.

The Winter Shopping Dilemma

I always dread shopping for food in the winter. Winter in Canada is when the fruits and vegetables start coming from farther and farther away, and I feel acutely the food miles that I am accumulating. And then there are the tough decisions about how much fresh food to buy for my family in spite of the distance it may have traveled. And then there's the local vs. organic dilemma.

After struggling with all of this for several years, I have come up with the following list of rules that help me make those decisions:
• Local AND organic if possible
• If local is available (meaning, during the winter, grown somewhere in Canada), choose over organics grown in the U.S. or farther afield
• Opt for frozen foods if necessary (a good way to keep Canadian grown peas, beans, and berries in your diet)
• Say adios to certain foods til spring--I don't buy non-organic grapes for example. Too many pesticides on a soft-skinned and therefore absorbant fruit. Not to mention that during the winter months they come from super-far-off places like Chile and South Africa.

It's a good thing I like root vegetables. In the meantime, I'll grit my teeth at the grocery store and take solace in seed catalogues. Next summer I'll make up for it by growing my own veggies.

Good luck with your own shopping adventures! I'd love to hear other readers' own strategies for keeping up variety while keeping down food miles during winter months.